Given the economic times, County Executive Bill McReynolds' 2009 budget is something of a surprise.
The budget includes a modest tax increase, no layoffs, funding for the Racine Zoo and Racine Public Library and some innovative programs to cut health care costs for employees and taxpayers. Not bad considering the doom and gloom we've all been seeing in the national media. It could have been much worse for county employees and services.
One of the most interesting ideas highlighted by McReynolds was the county's approach to people who need psychiatric care. It's expensive to send people to state mental health institutes, so the county is working on reducing that need. They're helping low-income residents afford medications they need to control mental illness and training sheriff's deputies how to respond to people with psychiatric distress. The county is also working with Wheaton-Franciscan All Saints to help people decompress rather than be admitted to the hospital.
All in all, it seems like a decent plan. The County Board will have its look now, and may find some problems (McReynolds basically challenged the board to find any "hidden" costs). It's too late to do much now, but it's interesting that the county is using its newly expanded jail to house inmates from outside of the community. Money is money, but aren't we trying to reduce the number of criminals in Racine?
Here's the full text of County Executive Bill McReynolds' budget address.